TGomL: Doomdark’s Revenge (ZX Spectrum, 1984)

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

In 1984, there was a little game for a little 48 KB machine which amazed everyone – nobody had done something like that with a computer (even a “bigger” one) before. You may have heard about it. I’ve even mentioned it here, some time ago: Mike Singleton’s The Lords of Midnight. ((I also used it as an obviously — and intentionally — unfair comparison with The Lord of the Rings Online with DirectX11.))

In the same year (!!!), Mike surpassed himself, with a game that was even larger, more complex, more detailed, more varied… and still used only 49152 bytes of RAM. It wasn’t very well named, though. The game was Doomdark’s Revenge.

Doomdark's Revenge - starting screen Doomdark's Revenge - meeting Torinarg the Barbarian

Why wasn’t that a good name? Because Doomdark, the villain from the first game, was, indeed, dead, after his defeat in LoM. Really dead, not “undead” or “sleeping until the stars are right”. The so-called “revenge” was to be by his daughter, Shareth the Heartstealer, from the land of Icemark (to the north of the land of Midnight), who was even more powerful and evil than his father (aren’t they always?), and who wanted Luxor the Moonprince to pay… because she had wanted the pleasure of killing her father for herself. Yes, you read that right. Surely a biting commentary on the nature of father-daughter relationships. To that end, she kidnapped Morkin, son of Luxor the Moonprince, the main character, took him to Icemark, and Luxor, an army of a thousand riders, and a couple of friends travelled between lands in order to rescue Morkin and bring an end to the threat of Doomdark’s family once and for all. (This story was told in detail in the excellent novella that accompanied the game.)

But the game was amazing. Instead of the “us versus them” of LoM, this game had several different races, with hierarchies of command (lieges and vassals, and their vassals, and so on), who moved around by themselves, waged war, and all that was mostly unpredictable. Every lord had characteristics, like being good, or evil, or reckless, or brave, or cowardly, or slow, or treacherous, and so on. The villainess, Shareth, also had her own goals, recruiting lords and their armies to her cause.

How unpredictable was the game? So much that, sometimes, Shareth herself was killed in battle, far away from you. (no, that didn’t end the game – you also had to rescue Morkin, and return to Midnight, remember?)

A far cry from today’s largely scripted games, isn’t it? And, unfortunaly, an idea that was never seen again, as far as I know. The villain is either stopped by the hero, or isn’t stopped at all. I know it makes things more epic, but… Doomdark’s Revenge, with its unpredictability, made me feel that, while I could affect the world, it didn’t revolve around me. (The other extreme of that equation, by the way, is a typical MMORPG – where, sure, the world doesn’t revolve around you, but you also can’t affect it in any lasting way, because the world is more like a “playground”, and it must remain mostly the same for other players. “Look, but don’t touch.” ((since I wrote that part in 2005, there have been some advances in MMORPGs in that respect, one of them being the idea of “phasing” parts of the world, so that, say, if a town is destroyed during a quest’s storyline, it stays destroyed for players who have already gone through that quest; those who didn’t, see it as intact. What happens is that the game actually sends them to different, but similar, areas.)) But I digress.)

Comparing it to its predecessor, the game has, in my opinion, both advantages and disadvantages. The complexity of characters and relationships are, of course, great, and so is the unpredictability, and the fact that there are no defined “good” and “evil” sides: everyone but Shareth is theoretically recruitable, though they are only amenable to being so by characters with similar traits; in other words, a good, brave and loyal lord will have no chance to recruit an evil, cowardly and treacherous one (though in this particular example, you may wonder why you’d ever want to…). However, it is precisely the fact that every character but one is recruitable that, in a way, works (in my opinion) to its disadvantage: it makes waging war a waste of time. Anyone you’re fighting is anyone you could be recruiting (even if you don’t currently have a character capable of doing so). This makes Doomdark’s Revenge less involving in terms of strategy than Lords of Midnight, where waging war and plotting a good strategy was necessary, and a big part of the game — even if you happened to be trying for Morkin’s “destroy the Ring Ice Crown” quest.

Also, some features appear to be unfinished or at least useless, such as the weapons and items you can pick up (I don’t think I ever used them to any actual effect), or the underground tunnels, which (with the exception of one of them, needed to get to the otherwise unreachable place where Morkin was captive) had little or no use.

Another feature I miss from LoM is that lords used to fight enemy armies; here they just fight other lords (though they can be killed by armies). It was fun to hear, in the after-battle report, that “Luxor slew one hundred and twenty of the enemy. His riders slew…” 🙂

Anyway, as with virtually every Spectrum game, you can get it (legally) at World of Spectrum. I also recommend Chris Wild’s excellent Doomdark’s Revenge resource.

7 thoughts on “TGomL: Doomdark’s Revenge (ZX Spectrum, 1984)”

  1. Truly an amazing game. I remember that once I managed to have a row of lords covering the entire width of the map (64 squares) and moved them all up one square or two every turn until I found Shareth and slew her. This was already on the PC, so I could save and load easily, but it still took me at least a couple of days. Nevertheless, it was the greatest sense of accomplishment I ever got from a Speccy game… until I beat Manic Miner without losing a single life, but that was a few years later.

  2. I loved this game. As far as I remembered it, the tunnels could be used to safely hide your armies, or indeed the vital characters such as Luxor from Shareth. You could also use the strategy of rescuing Morkin via a tunnel in the top North East corner of the map. Sending Tarithel on that quest whilst you searched for the Spell of Thigrorn whose power is in Swiftness, which magically transported you to Morkin without the need of the tunnel quest, was a good strategy. Each character had their own weapon or item. They could use it to max their mental and physical health once each game. Swopping weapons and getting them all to the right people was also a strategy. Using the tunnels and dawn spells, you could cover a good portion of the map in very few days, if you knew the route. This was good to know when sending the crown to where ever you have stashed Luxor. The crown when used by him, brought all is armies to him at once. It was good to do this when Tarithel had reruited Morkin and Avalon next to Shareths City in the North (only accessible via the tunnel in the North East). I really do miss playing this masterpiece of a game :):) … thanks for the article.

    1. Ah, there’s another cunning but risky way to get to the plains of Anvoril (i.e. where Morkin is). Right next to the frozen wastes that surround them there’s an Ice Lord’s fortress. If Tarithel attacks it she gets kicked out in a random direction, often right across the frozen wastes. Finding and using the Spell of Thigrorn is preferable, though, as it also makes Tarithel better at recruiting people.

  3. After Lords of Midnight’s huge impact on me, I was so eager of Doomdark’s Revenge release that I remember I bought it previously than it was available in Portugal, during a summer holiday in which I came across Gibraltar, and therefore was one of the first Portuguese to ever try it.
    Some years later (yes, I really stated years!) I got through the mammoth task of creating the full map by running through the whole landscape with some characters and hiding Luxor in a cave (hence the usefulness of these is not entirely neglectible) and I still keep the large square-matrix paper with the colour-coded squares as a reminder of this effort and the commitment that passion can bring along.
    The lesson to learn is that for full commitment achievement we have to add some passion to the motivations. This is the only reason that I can find to justify, after all this time, the occasional “googling” of Icemark-related entries to see what’s going around, and fortunately, there is still plenty going around…

  4. Much more replayable than LOM, which never changed once you’d mastered it. The real downside of DR for me was the character/place names which aren’t nearly as memorable as those used in LOM.

    The items are usable but generally not worth the effort. The crowns are epic though – I think it’s Luxor and Morkin who can use them to summon all of your characters to their location. Great way of summoning everyone at the last minute for the final battle. There’s also an item which makes you immortal, so that’s kinda handy 🙂

  5. Wish I could get behind this game, but the lack of meaningful combat (since you always can recruit instead of fight you enemies, almost no combat is meaningful) and the lack of progress-reports as to what’s happening elsewhere, takes away a lot that was good about LoM.

    I would much prefer a system where only some of the peoples of the Icemark are recruitable, and anyone who is already loyal to Shareth as impossible to recruit. Progress reports as to where fighting is taking place would also be great.

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